Beretta is the oldest armsmaker in the world, established nearly half a millennia ago in 1525. But when it comes to semi-automatic pistols, the historic Italian gunmaker waited until the early 20th century before building its first self-loading model in 1915, establishing a lineage of medium- and large-frame semi-autos that have evolved for nearly a century. Beretta also has a legacy for building some of the finest small-caliber pistols of all time, including the famous Model 418 (circa 1937 to 1961). The .25 ACP (6.35mm Browning) model was even written into the early James Bond novels by author Ian Fleming, who, like the fictional Bond, was a commander in British Naval Intelligence during World War II. Fleming once noted that he had carried a Beretta Model 418 during the war, so there was more truth than fiction to 007’s Beretta and his sentimentality toward surrendering it for a Walther PPK in Fleming’s 1958 novel Dr. No: “Bond shrugged his shoulders. ‘I’ve used the .25 Beretta for 15 years. Never had a stoppage and I haven’t missed with it yet. Not a bad record for a gun.’”
Beretta’s first small-caliber pocket model was introduced in 1919 (Model 1920) and was chambered in 6.35mm, a cartridge developed by John Browning in 1900. The first Beretta was also not too dissimilar in basic appearance from the Browning FN (Fabrique Nationale) Model 1900, for which the 6.35mm cartridge had been originally designed. In 1936, Beretta developed the Model 318, followed by the vaunted Model 418 a year later, a pistol that was to become one of the most popular small-caliber semi-automatics of the WWII era.
After WWII, Beretta continued to develop new pocket semi-autos in .25 ACP and .22 rimfire, including the single-action Models 950 and 950B in the 1950s, predecessors to the most famous of all post-WWII pocket models: the double-action, tip-up-barrel Models 20, 21 and 21A, the latter more popularly known today as the Bobcat. Chambered in .25 ACP or .22 rimfire, or in .32 ACP as the Model 3032 Tomcat, all three are still produced today by Beretta and remain among the most popular pocket pistols ever designed.
Beretta has been making medium-frame, double-action 9mm and .380 ACP semi-automatic pistols for decades, but scaling down a 9mm was never a priority until the 21st century and the rise in demand for larger-caliber subcompacts for concealed carry. Beretta’s first entry into this emerging market is the innovative Nano.
The Nano, as the name implies, is small—smaller than any 9mm ever manufactured by Beretta—a mere 5.63 inches in length, 4.17 inches in height, and 0.90 inches in width. For a 6+1 capacity 9mm, those are close tolerances. To put that in perspective, a .32 ACP Beretta Tomcat measures 5.4 inches in overall length, 3.63 inches in height and 1 inch in width. The Nano is also light at 17.67 ounces empty because the frame is polymer. If this sounds a bit familiar, it is, because the Nano is following a contemporary trend in handgun design of combining steel and polymers to build lighter weight pistols; however, Beretta has not come to the party without bringing its own unique contribution.
The Nano’s construction is unprecedented for a semi-automatic pistol. The gun’s one-piece polymer frame is merely a shell, a molded technopolymer cover surrounding an independent stainless steel fire control subchassis containing frame rails, trigger and striker firing system. This subchassis is removable and serial numbered, therefore making this component “the gun.” This unique construction will allow Beretta to offer affordable, interchangeable exterior configurations in the near future, ranging from different grip styles, colors and specialized built-in accessories such as a laser sighting system—all without having an owner make any modification to the gun except changing the outer shell. This is an incredibly versatile design.
Because of the separate exterior shell, the Nano is not quite as small as the Kahr PM9 or Ruger LC9, but what the Nano does offer, without making any comparisons, is the most-foolproof and easiest-to-handle semi-auto the celebrated Italian armsmaker has ever offered.
The Nano’s construction and operation is as uncomplicated as possible. It has no external (manual) safety or even a slide release lever. All it takes to strip the first round from a magazine on the reload is pulling the slide slightly to the rear and letting go, which basically makes it ambidextrous. In a pinch (one-handed), the slide can also be released by lightly pushing its front edge against any hard surface and you’re good to go. There is also an easily depressed magazine release that is reversible, and the Nano has no magazine disconnect, so it can fire a chambered round with the magazine removed.
The Nano ideally fits the average hand as-is, with a flat baseplate magazine to tuck the little finger under. A large, curved triggerguard makes getting to work quick business even wearing a glove, and there is still ample room for a two-handed hold with plenty of clearance behind the muzzle of the 3.07-inch barrel. Aside from its unique fire control subchassis, the Nano is otherwise quite conventional, employing a striker-fired, short-recoil system; the latter based on the John M. Browning design that uses a linkless barrel with a solid camming lug and squared breechblock face to engage the slide. This is combined with a Glock-style toggle trigger safety and automatic striker block, which is par for the course with almost every new semi-auto design these days. To help mitigate harsh recoil from the lightweight 9mm, Beretta uses a double recoil spring, one wound around the guide rod and another around the plunger.
The only external indication of the gun’s condition is the loaded-chamber indicator, a very subtle feature. When a round is chambered, the extractor protrudes just slightly outward from the slide. Other than that, the gun has no obvious tells; the trigger position appears the same (fully forward, toggle extended) whether the slide has been cycled or not, while a Glock, for example, has two clearly different trigger positions between “at the ready” and “discharged.” The matte black, Pronox-finished slide is fitted with a windage-adjustable white dot rear sight that is locked in place by two standard 1.3mm hex-head setscrews. The white dot front sight is locked into a horizontal dovetailed channel with a single 1.3mm hex-head setscrew, making both front and rear easily interchangeable.
Takedown for cleaning has also been simplified with the Nano, which, after removing the magazine and clearing the gun, comes apart by simply depressing the striker deactivation button on the right side of the grip frame with the tip of a ballpoint pen or other pointed object and then rotating the takedown screw (also on the right side of the frame, just above the trigger) one quarter-turn counter-clockwise. You can do the latter without any tools—the edge of a shell casing is all you need. The slide, barrel, recoil spring and guide rod assembly can then be drawn forward off of the subframe. Reassembly is faster as the takedown screw automatically resets and locks itself when the slide is replaced. It’s quick and easy, and the first step can actually be skipped (after ensuring the gun is empty) by simply pulling the trigger. There is one added advantage to the striker deactivation button, however. By depressing it, the gun can be decocked for carry with a chambered round. It only takes a very slight rearward pull of the slide (about 0.25 inches) to reset the trigger and make the Nano ready to fire.
As a defensive sidearm for concealed carry, the Nano couldn’t be any easier to use without being a revolver. For more information, visit berettausa.com or call 800-929-2901.